The End of 9/11

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On November 2, 2001, a driver on the Washington Beltway cut me off in traffic and gave someone else the finger. I remember the date because I thought, The 9/11 era is over.

In fact, the 9/11 era was both transitory and permanent. The political moment in which the United States could have done anything to address basic problems—notably, reliance on imported oil, which then cost about $25 per barrel—was gone within six months. Other consequences of 9/11 will stay with us. It is hard to imagine when airline travel will be “normal” again, or when no American troops will serve in Iraq.

For several years after the attacks, saying that a policy or idea reflected “pre-9/11 thinking” could end the discussion. But by 2005, some people, mainly academics, began arguing carefully that too much alarm over possible terrorism could be self-defeating. They said that 9/11 was a moment of unprecedented shock for America but did not overturn every previous principle of how the United States should deal with other nations or preserve its own liberties.

Early last year, a British Cabinet member announced that his government would stop using the term war on terror, because it united and perversely dignified disparate terrorist groups. The U.S. electorate made essentially the same decision this year, in rejecting Rudy Giuliani’s bid for the presidency. His approaches to economic, legal, and foreign-policy questions all began: “On 9/11 … ” Seven years afterward, that is no longer enough.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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